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Canada in context (Part Four)
By Mark Wegierski
Political, constitutional, juridical, and socio-cultural aspects of the origins and development of the Canadian State
In the October 1993 election the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to only two seats (including the defeat of Prime Minister Campbell in her own riding) -- although they had about 16% of the countrywide vote. The Liberal Party under Jean Chretien was able to win a commanding majority (177 of 295 seats) (with 41% of the countrywide vote). However, the Bloc Quebecois, led by Lucien Bouchard (a former associate of Mulroney’s) won 54 seats in Quebec (with 13.5% of the popular vote) – which gave them the status of Official Opposition – the second-largest party in the House of Commons. One ex-Tory running as an independent was also elected in Quebec, along with 19 Liberals, including Jean Chretien, although most of their support came from ridings with substantial non-French-speaking minorities.
The Reform Party won 52 seats (with 19% of the countrywide vote). All but one of the seats were from Western Canada. The one Reform seat was in Ontario where the Liberals obtained 98 of 99 seats. The Reform Party existed solely at the federal level but was eventually able to work with some of the provincial Progressive Conservative parties, notably in Alberta and Ontario – although the Progressive Conservative party at the federal level persisted in opposing a possible merger.
The New Democratic Party was reduced from 43 to 9 seats (with 7% of the countrywide vote) – apparently many of their earlier supporters went to the Liberals.
In 1995, the Parti Quebecois, who had won the provincial election in Quebec in 1994 with a two-thirds majority in the provincial parliament (although with only a slightly greater share of the popular vote than the provincial Liberals – owing to the operation of “first-past-the-post”) launched a referendum to get public approval to begin negotiations for Quebec sovereignty. The referendum failed by an unbelievably thin margin. When an angry Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau publicly blamed the loss of the referendum on “money and the ethnic vote” he was almost immediately forced to resign – as this was seen as representing a very dark side of Quebecois nationalism.
In the federal election of 1997, the Liberals won a working majority of 155 out of 301 seats (with 38% of the country-wide vote); Reform won 60 seats (with 19% of the vote) – although without a single seat outside of Western Canada; the Bloc Quebecois won 44 seats (with 11% of the vote); the NDP won 21 seats (with 11% of the vote); the Progressive Conservatives won 20 seats (with 19% of the vote); and there was one independent candidate elected.
The apparent discrepancies between popular vote and seats won in the federal Parliament in these elections occurred not only as a result of the usual operation of the “first-past-the-post” system, but also because of the obvious vote splitting between Reform and the Progressive Conservatives.
In 1995, Mike Harris was elected Premier of Ontario. The provincial Progressive Conservatives were decidedly more right-leaning than the federal wing of the party, partly because of the reaction to the five years of NDP government in Ontario. The NDP had won the provincial election in 1990, after three years of a left-leaning Liberal government (1987-1990), and two years of a Liberal-NDP coalition (1985-1987). Before that, Ontario had elected Progressive Conservative governments since the 1940s. However, the Progressive Conservatives under Premier Bill Davis (in 1971-1985) had been largely hostile to any manifestations of social and cultural conservatism – they were pragmatic managers in a period of massive social upheaval and transformation. Frank Miller, Bill Davis’ successor, was only briefly Premier, and was characterized by the media, the opposition parties, and by even some members of his own party, as a political dinosaur. However, a decade later, the unpopularity of the NDP brought in Mike Harris and his so-called Common Sense Revolution. Mike Harris won a majority government in 1995 as well as 1999. However, he resigned in 2002. Although Harris claimed to resign for personal reasons -- the controversy over Walkerton, where a number of people died from an infected water-supply – and for which the main blame was firmly placed in many people’s minds on Harris’s privatization policies – certainly was a factor.
The Progressive Conservative party leadership race between Ernie Eves and Jim Flaherty brought the decidedly more moderate Eves to the Premiership. However, in the October 2, 2003 provincial election, the Liberals, under Dalton McGuinty, won 72 seats (with 46.5% of the popular vote), the Progressive Conservatives, under Ernie Eves, 24 seats (with 34.6% of the vote), and the NDP (under Howard Hampton), 7 seats (with 14.7% of the vote).
To be continued.
Partially based on an English-language text that appeared in Polish translation under the title “Kanada – eksperyment wielokulturowosci.” (Canada: an experiment in multiculturalism) trans. Olaf Swolkien. Miedzynarodowy Przeglad Polityczny (International Political Review) (Warsaw, Poland: Fundacja Srodkowoeuropejska – The Foundation for Central European) no 5 (no 10) (December 2004-January 2005), pp. 221-231.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based, Canadian writer and historical researcher.